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Students, officials criticize CUNY cuts

Elected officials, professors, education advocates and students last week attacked Mayor Bloomberg's plan to cut millions of dollars from the City University system, some calling it an assault on the American Dream.

"I will do everything in my power to stop these cuts," City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), chairman of the Council Finance Committee, told a rally at City Hall May 7.

"You can count on me."

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), said "we must go all out to stop these cuts and keep the pressure on."

CUNY's budget has been trimmed by nearly $68 million to $627 million in fiscal 2009 because of a reduction in planned spending from Bloomberg and a slight decrease from the federal government. State funds are projected to rise marginally.

Also condemning the cuts were Queens City Council members John Liu (D-Flushing) and Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights), who proclaimed herself "a proud graduate of Queens College," which is part of the CUNY system.

The demonstrators displayed boxes overflowing with more than 25,000 cards opposing the cuts and signed by students, faculty and staff.

The cards were later presented to Bloomberg's office.

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, a union representing 22,000 faculty and professional staff at CUNY, said "enrollment at CUNY is higher than it has been in 35 years and students are streaming into the colleges to prepare for difficult economic conditions. This is no time to cut the City University."

Several speakers mentioned the historic role City College had played as the university of the poor and the struggling and pointed out that what they called "the people's university" had produced more CEOs than any other university.

Donna Gill of the Hunter College financial aid office said the Bloomberg budget would cut $160 from each Vallone Scholarship.

"Those scholarships are $625 for a semester," Gill said. "While $160 is probably a sum the mayor cannot really grasp, for my students it is often an insurmountable obtacle..$160 is a week's groceries for a family. Or two months of MetroCards."

Gill said $160 is the difference between being able to register for the next semester or not because if they don't pay the additional $160 now, they are not allowed to register for next semester.

"And for many of them, I can tell you from personal experience, they don't have it to pay," Gill aid.

The City University system has a total enrollment of more than 400,000 students and includes 23 colleges, including Queens College, York College and Queensborough and La Guardia Community Colleges.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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